Paper pub. date
April 2015
ISBN 9780870718014 (paperback)
6 x 9, 312 pages. B&W and Color Illustrations. Maps. Index.

Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands

From Prehistory to the Present

Philip C. Brown and Bruce L. Batten

Over the long course of Japan's history, its rich natural environment simultaneously supported its human inhabitants and created significant hazards and challenges. The Japanese have also influenced nature in numerous ways, from landscape modification to industrial pollution. How has the human-nature relationship changed over time in Japan? How does Japan’s environmental history compare with that of other countries, or that of the world as a whole?


Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands attempts to answer these questions through a series of case studies by leading Japanese and Western historians, geographers, archaeologists, and climatologists. These essays, on diverse topics from all periods of Japanese history and prehistory, are unified by their focus on the key concepts of “resilience” and “risk mitigation.” Taken as a whole, they place Japan’s experience in global context and call into question the commonly presumed division between premodern and modern environmental history.


Primarily intended for scholars and students in fields related to Japan or environmental history, these accessibly written essays will be valuable to anyone wishing to learn about the historical roots of today’s environmental issues or the complex relationship between human society and the natural environment.

List of Contributors:

Gina Barnes
Bruce L. Batten
Philip C. Brown
Eric Dinmore
Toshihiro Higuchi
Junpei Hirano
Kuang-chi Hung
Tatsunori Kawasumi
Takehiko Mikami
Scott O’Bryan
Osamu Saito
Shizuyo Sano
Gregory Smits
Colin Tyner
Masumi Zaiki


About the author

PHILIP C. BROWN is emeritus professor of history at the Ohio State University.   

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Bruce L. Batten is Professor of Japanese History at J. F. Oberlin University in Tokyo and the former director of the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama. He is a specialist on ancient and medieval Japan and is the author of To the Ends of Japan: Premodern Frontiers, Boundaries, and Interactions and Gateway to Japan: Hakata in War and Peace, 500-1300

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"[Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands] is a stimulating, well-researched, and well-edited volume that makes a significant contribution to the growing literature on Japanese environmental history. The individual chapters . . . offer a multifaceted and stimulating view of Japanese environmental history. In all respects, the book clearly lives up to the editors' first guiding principle: to bring together a diversity of authors and topics that throw new light on the long and varied environmental history of Japan. Environment and Society in the Japanese Islands has taken an important step by drawing on ecological theories such as the adaptive cycle to understand environmental history in Japan. This book deserves close attention by specialists and upper-level students interested in Japan and in global environmental history." -- Patricia Sippel, Monumenta Nipponica

"What sets this book apart from other works in the rapidly growing field of Japanese environmental history is the volume's disciplinary diversity, its broad historical range, and its engagement with ecological resilience theory. This volume not only adds a much needed premodern perspective to studies of the human-nature relationship in Japan, but through its accessible presentation and critical engagement with current debates, it also announces for Japan a more prevalent place in global environmental history." -- Tristan R. Grunow, Environmental History

"[Batten and Brown] do an excellent job of demonstrating the dynamic relationship between nature and humanity in the Japanese islands."
Ichiro Miyata, Agricultural History


"[Batten and Brown's] approaches blur boundaries and are not easily categorized. This, I think, is a strength rather than a weakness of this volume... The increasing amount of work on Japanese environmental history of various and assorted stripes highlights vibrancy and insights I could not have imagined a decade and a half ago."

Aaron Skabelund, The Journal of Asian Studies

"This rich volume presents recent research on Japanese environmental history from the perspectives of archaeology, biogeography, climatology, ecology, geographic information systems, history, and international relations in order to illuminate 'the processes of historical, socionatural change' (13) in Japan and in environmental history generally. The editors, Bruce L. Batten and Philip C. Brown, point out that Japan is instructive because many global environmental problems exist there, indigenous records for studying specific events reach far into the past, and distinctive environmental characteristics probably inhere there because it is an island country...Contributors are divided almost equally between specialists from Japan and those from abroad, representing an array of topics and methodologies at the forefront of environmental research. Each chapter brims with fresh data and sophisticated insights that will edify Japan specialists and global environmental historians alike...This is a book of great interest and importance."

-Tom Havens, American Historical Review


"This volume...deserves credit for helping name some of the challenges that are likely to shape Japanese environmental history going forward."

- Kerry Smith, Journal of Japanese Studies

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